view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Buon Consiglio" - Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish

As the above marriage certificate shows, Leonardo Ambruso (misspelled) married Isabella Gentile on 15 May 1899 at Parrochia Italliana di N. S. del Boun Consiglio (the Italian Parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel).  This was a parish created specifically for the growing number of southern Italian immigrants who were flocking into South Philadelphia in the 1890’s.  Actually, they already had one Italian parish, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, founded by Bishop John Neumann in 1852.   St. Mary was originally created to meet the spiritual needs of Philadelphia’s early Italian immigrant community within the Irish-dominated archdiocese, but its parishioners were mostly immigrants from northern Italy.  It was east of where the new Little Italy was forming with mostly southern Italians.  So, in 1898, Our Lady of Good Counsel parish was founded.  This parish, known locally as “Buon Consiglio”, became the religious center of the Italian community.  The important events of their lives (baptisms, First Holy Communion, confirmation, weddings and funerals) all took place at this church.  Statues of saints, novenas, outdoor festas and processions were all part of their religious devotion at Buon Consiglio.
The cornerstone of Buon Consiglio church was laid in May 1899, the same month that Leonardo and Isabella were married.  The church was just three blocks from where the Ambruso’s lived on South Mildred Street.  Notice on the marriage certificate above, that the female witness (matron of honor) was Michael Ambruso’s new wife Caterina (Di)Biase. 

Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
In 1930, just 42 years after it was started, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that it was eliminating Our Lady of Good Counsel parish.  It cited perpetual financial woes, old and inadequate facilities and a shrinking congregation as factors.  By this time Philadelphia’s Little Italy was moving further south and west.  The cardinal grossly underestimated the parish’s importance to the community of poor and working class Italians it served, and their fierce loyalty to their little church.  On May 3, 1930, three thousand people assembled in front of the church for an all night vigil that escalated into a full-scale protest.  Parishioners physically prevented the pastor from leaving the building and barricaded another priest inside the church.  Do you think any of our Ambruso ancestors may have been part of the protest?  The parishioners petitioned Rome, but the archdiocese and its lawyers won and the church was boarded-up.  The parish was finally dissolved in 1937 and the church, the symbol of faith and center of worship for thousands of Italian Americans, was torn down.

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